One On One With Award Winning Jazz Guitarist Norman Brown

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Norman Brown is an award-winning guitarist from Kansas City. Considered to be one of the best smooth jazz guitarists, Norman Brown composes music as a solo artist as well as a member of the band ‘BWB’. He plays with Kirk Whalum, an award-winning saxophonist, and Rick Braun, a renowned trumpeter.

Having discovered his love for music at a tender age, Norman has gone ahead to have a great career that has seen him bag awards throughout his career. In 1997 he won The American Jazz Award for contemporary guitar award. He has garnered two Grammy nominations, The Best Best Pop Instrumental Album for his album ‘Just Chillin’ which he won and The Best Pop Instrumental Album for his album ‘24/7’in 2012.

Norman Brown was in town last week with BWB to play at the Safaricom International Jazz Festival.

Please tell us a little about yourself

I was born in Louisiana but I grew up in Kansas City. I have played the guitar all my life. I studied music at The Music Institute in California. I have made 12 CDS. I have won some awards like the American Jazz Awards and The Grammy Awards. I love making music and I am so blessed to have found this passion.

What inspired you to get into music?

I saw my brother playing the guitar when I was 8 years old. So I would try and do it too. I would sneak and play it when he was not around. One day after a year of sneaking around he caught me. He simply told me that I did not have to sneak around anymore. I could play it anytime I wanted to play it. Ever since then, it has been part of my being.

Norman Brown. Image from http://www.capegazette.com/article/jazz-brown-elliot-and-abair-take-stage/18154

Having grown up in a city considered to be ‘the cradle of smooth jazz’, did that inspire you in any way to get into jazz music?

Absolutely. Growing up in Kansas City was a beautiful thing. We had the Charlie Parker Memorial Foundation and the music in the schools. So I studied music in junior high school, high school, all the way through. It was great. Everyone played music in all the neighbourhoods.

Who would you consider your musical influences?

From Kansas, we have the guitarist John Bridge Water and Rodger Banister. These were the guys I grew up watching playing across the street from me who really inspired me.

How would you describe your personal sound?

Well, I try to make it a pleasing sound. A sound that inspires and pleases the spirit. I do not like to place my music into a category. I just call it music. I just like to play music. There are two kinds of music. There is good music and there is bad music. That’s it.

You have been nominated for a Grammy Award Twice and actually won one. How has that affected your musical career?

It was a big honour for me. I just strive to win more. It did elevate my name and my music so I am very grateful and humbled to have received the award.

You have a band, BWB along with Kirk Whalum and Rick Braun. How long have you known each other and how did you get together?

We met back in 2002. We were on the same record label, Warner Brothers Records. We just started making records together. We were already friends and we decided to do it. So we came together in the studio for one week and we made our first record called it Groovin’. Then we did a tribute to Michael Jackson called ‘Human Nature’.

You were here in 2015, how was the experience for you playing in Kenya, and going to visit the kids?

It was my first time here. I was very excited and it was all new to me. It was the same in the sense that we all shared love. I saw the love that was given to the kids and it was so beautiful to me. It was so lovely to see the people who made that happen.

Did you manage to tour the country, get to see the animals or basically have a true Kenyan experience?

I really want to do that this time. Last time I just got to walk around downtown and walk through the city and it was beautiful to see the people. This time I actually want to visit the countryside. I leave on Monday. I have Saturday off so I am hoping to go do all that on that day.

What are some of the lessons you have learned in your life in the jazz industry?

Basically, I have learned how sound influences the spirit and how the spirit drives our lives. It is the essence of our being. So I can say music has taught me that in many different ways.

Any challenges along your music career and how did you overcome them?

I look at challenges and problems like lessons that way it is not a problem. Of course, there are hurdles. The music industry changes, it transcends. So as long as you stay with that change then every day is a new day. It is not a bad thing, so you can take that change and turn it into a good thing. That way we keep going on with our lives and keep being better and better.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to get into the jazz scene?

Stay devoted. You have to decide to stay devoted. First of all, to develop your craft you have to practice. You have to stay loyal to your music and you have to stay inspired. Let nothing kill your inspiration.

What are your future plans?

I am currently recording a new CD. I have not put titled it yet. I am thinking of calling it ‘Free’. And I am excited and I am just now starting to work on it. It is inspired by my last CD, ‘Let it Go’. It means if you sacrifice the lesser for the greater, then there is no sacrifice and then you are free.

Find out more about what the trio of BWB is up to – Interview With The Acclaimed American Jazz Band BWB.

If you would like to know more about what Norman Brown is up to follow him on twitter at @Norman_Brown. Check out his website as well https://www.normanbrown.com/.

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